The glycans of stem cells

Curr Opin Chem Biol. 2007 Aug;11(4):373-80. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2007.05.032. Epub 2007 Jul 27.


Glycans cover all cellular surfaces and, not surprisingly, are involved in many facets of stem cell biology and technology. For instance, coaxing stem cells to either proliferate or differentiate into the specific cell types needed for transplantation requires intricate glycan-dependent modulation of signalling molecules such as FGF-2, Wnt, and Notch. Moreover, owing to their prominent cell-surface localization and lineage-specific signatures, glycan epitopes such as the stage-specific embryonic antigens (Lewis X/SSEA-1, SSEA3-4) and tumor-rejection antigens (TRA1-60, 1-81) are ideally suited for identifying and isolating specific cell types from heterogeneous populations. Finally, the non-human sialic acid Neu5Gc has been detected on the surface of human embryonic stem cells because of metabolic incorporation from animal products used for their culture. Transplantation of Neu5Gc-contaminated cells poses immunological risks due to the presence, in humans, of circulating antibodies recognizing this glycan epitope.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Separation
  • Humans
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*


  • Polysaccharides